June 27, 2014 by Tara Laver
June is traditionally thought of as the time for weddings, but often in 18th and 19th-century Louisiana, before the wedding came the marriage contract.
In agreements such as the one featured here between free people of color Jean Jacques Montfort and Marie Eulalie Blaise and dated October 26, 1829 , the prospective bride and groom spelled out the property each brought to the marriage and any rights the woman retained.
Jean Jacques Montfort was a widower and resident of New Orleans born around 1797 in Saint Domingue (now Haiti) to George Montfort and Fillette Capet, a free woman of color. His bride, Marie Eulalie Blais, who resided at 128 St. Ann St. in New Orleans, was the daughter of a Mr. Blais and Marie Magdeleine Parnets, who herself was a free woman of color. It is likely that Marie Eulalie Blais also had a family tie to Saint Domingue. She was born in Cuba around 1805, and many of those who fled Saint Domingue during the Haitian Revolution mounted by the slaves between 1791 and 1804 initially settled in Cuba. However, these refugees soon found themselves caught up in the Napoleonic war between France and Spain when in 1809 the Spanish officials in Cuba expelled the French settlers, many of whom then made their way to New Orleans.
Refugees from St. Domingue transacted marriage contracts more often than any other ethnic group in New Orleans, and Blaise and Montfort provide an example of that practice. Their marriage contract includes an inventory of the prospective bride’s dowry, which was valued at piastres (dollars) and included property on Burgundy Street, a female slave named “Melie” who was thirteen-years-old, monies, silver, furniture, clothing, and jewelry. Among the terms of the contract are the stipulation that she will maintain separate ownership of any property she inherits or receives as a donation after their marriage and that she reserves the right to retain and administer separate property. The agreement also references the property Montfort brings to the marriage and records that it derived from the community of his first marriage. The document is in French, but an English translation is also available.
As intertwined as Montfort and Blais’s family histories may have been with the vagaries of international politics, their marriage contract also reflects the intermingling of multiple legal traditions. Marriage contracts such as theirs reflected the civil law tradition of Louisiana’s French and Spanish colonial past that continued to influence Francophone couples in Louisiana after the Louisiana Purchase, when the new American government in the territory sought to institute a common-law regime. Historian Sarah Brooks Sundberg argues that as a result of the continued influence of civil law, “Women in Louisiana continued to benefit economically from the law, essentially inverting patterns of legal disenfranchisement and loss of authority over property that often happened when political transfers to Anglo or American government resulted in Anglicization of the law.” Indeed Blais seemed to hold the financial cards in her arrangements with Montfort.
 Paul Lachance, “Were Saint-Domingue Refugees a Distinctive Cultural Group in Antebellum New Orleans? Evidence from Patterns and Strategies of Property Holding,”Revista/Review Interamericana, Vol. 29, No. 1-4 (1999), p. 177.
 Sara Brooks Sundberg, “Women and Property in Early Louisiana: Legal Systems at Odds,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter 2012), p. 664.
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